Belfast Telegraph

Panama leaks: Barcelona backs Lionel Messi after footballer named in leaked documents

Messi's family has dismissed reports and threatened to sue media outlets

Spanish tax authorities have said they are investigating allegations of tax irregularities involving footballer Lionel Messi amid a leak of documents about offshore accounts.

Messi's family released a statement denying wrongdoing and threatened to sue media outlets that released the information linking the Argentine player to accounts in Panama. Barcelona said it was supporting Messi and his family.

The football star was among those named in reports by international media who received a vast trove of data and documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which specialises in creating offshore accounts which allegedly can be used to avoid tax.

Last year, Spanish authorities charged Messi and his father with three counts of tax fraud for allegedly defrauding Spain's tax office of 4.1 million euro (£3.2 million) in unpaid taxes from 2007-09. They will stand trial in late May and potentially face nearly two years in prison if found guilty.

Spanish newspaper El Confidencial published a story based on the leaked documents, claiming that a company had been set up in Panama just a day after Spanish tax authorities unveiled the charges for the alleged irregularities committed from 2007-09. The newspaper published documents that appeared to contain the signatures of Messi and his father.

The Spanish tax agency said on Monday it is "closely investigating the information that has been published".

The agency, which is also probing Spaniards mentioned in the documents, said it was already looking at the tax forms presented by all those involved, including companies possibly used by them.

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The statement from Messi's family said it "never used the company" that has been linked to Messi in the so-called Panama Papers.

"Lionel Messi has not carried out any of the acts of which he is accused in the stories," the statement said. "The allegations of him having designed a tax evasion project are false and injurious, as are those relating to the creation of a money laundering network."

The family said that the Panamanian company linked to Messi is inactive, "has never had any capital or active current accounts" and that it "dates from the old corporate structure set up by the Messi family's previous financial advisers, with the tax implications for Lionel Messi having been settled at the time".

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It added that "all of the income from his image rights, including both earnings made prior to and following on from the case with the tax agency have been declared to the Spanish tax authorities". It said the information released now is linked to "totally unrelated events which are currently pending resolution or indeed have been dismissed" by the courts.

"In conclusion, the facts reported on are based on mere conjecture and emanate from partial and biased documentation, which has been disclosed using the lure of Messi's name and the player's reputation," the statement said.

"This is particularly serious when accusations of criminal offences as serious as tax evasion and money laundering are made, allegations which bring about irreparable damage to Lionel Messi."

Barcelona said it was fully behind its player.

"FC Barcelona has sent its affection and support to the player and to his whole family," the team said.

"The club makes all of its judicial means, fiscal and administrative, at the family's disposal in order to make his actions and honour clear in this case."

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